State sending updates on blackouts

Californians wondering when the next blackout is going to hit can tap into their wireless phones and other handheld devices for the answer. The state is offering free, real-time, wireless notifications about upcoming energy shortfalls.

State officials had planned to offer wireless e-mail and phone messaging for various services, said Arun Baheti, California's director of e-government, but the energy crisis "provided us with the impetus to move our plans faster than we originally thought."

Previously, Californians could turn to radio, television or a state Web site called Flex Your Power (www.flexyourpower.ca.gov) to find the latest information on the energy crunch.

But with the new service, residents can receive instant updates on when the next scheduled blackout will be, Baheti said. They can be better prepared and able to inform friends, neighbors and relatives or check on their businesses, he said. Or, for example, if a Stage 2 alert is issued — indicating that power reserves are low — then people know to reduce their energy use.

"What we want to do is help them to do their part," Baheti said. "When we hit these alerts, we need to curtail [energy] use immediately."

It took about 30 to 40 days to develop the service, which meant creating new templates to present the information on various handheld devices including wireless phones, pagers and personal digital assistants, he said. The state's new portal, unveiled earlier this year, was designed to support wireless functionality; otherwise, "you would have to literally hand-key all thoseWeb pages," he said. In addition to the energy crisis notifications, Baheti said the state also offers traffic information and lottery results via wireless devices. Before creating more wireless options, state officials plan to survey members of the public and state agencies to assess their needs.

The wireless features were developed in conjunction with Deloitte Consulting, BroadVision Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc., Roundarch and Kana Inc.

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